After a ten-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, a trip to face a Manchester City side fighting to bridge the ever-increasing gap between themselves and local rivals Manchester United at the top of the table was always likely to just be a challenge too far for Stoke City.
Notwithstanding the defeat to Mancini’s men, whose squad consists of £220 million more talent than the one Tony Pulis has put together, the festive period of fixtures had seen the Potters engage in three extremely taxing clashes even before the trip to the Etihad. The away draw at in-form Tottenham Hotspur was supplemented by the hugely competitive victory over Liverpool, before finally coming back from 3-1 at home to Southampton with 10 men to pick up a point.
Thus, Pulis has sensibly chosen not to be too downhearted at his side’s listless performance in defeat to the reigning Premier League champions, particularly as the Potters sit in a comfortable tenth place after 21 games as the programme takes a break for FA Cup action.
So what lessons can he take from the festive period? Well arguably, it was a run of matches that saw Stoke actually become rather popular with the football public at large. So often criticised for their aggressiveness in the tackle and perceived negative style of football, the Potters’ resolute defensive display in their goalless draw at White Hart Lane saw them hailed as one of the best backlines in Europe, let alone the Premier League.
Subsequently, Stoke’s complete and utter domination of Liverpool both mentally and physically in front of a raucous Boxing Day crowd at the Britannia saw many observers showering praise on both Pulis and his players, not just for the commitment and doggedness on show but for their quality and skill on the ball.
The festive period also saw the rejuvenation of Kenwyne Jones in a Stoke City shirt. For so long a forgotten man due to a combination of the form of Peter Crouch and seemingly a lack of effort on Jones’ part when he was afforded an opportunity to play, the Trinidadian had already just begun to show signs of gathering momentum already this season, with confident performances at West Brom and at Aston Villa.
However, the way in which the former Southampton man terrorised both Liverpool and Southampton aerially suggested that the club’s former record signing before Crouch, who is now sitting on the bench such has been Jones’ form, has rediscovered the Drogba-esque talent that once made him such a feared prospect for Premier League defences.
Cameron Jerome has also proved an invaluable asset off the bench for Tony Pulis, offering his forward line pace that Jones, Crouch and Jonathan Walters, for all their good attributes, simply do not bring to the table. Certainly, Stoke fans will not be forgetting his belter to earn a point against Southampton in a hurry.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Stoke